Suppose you’re a dancer/choreographer—Olivier Wevers.
You want to start your own company—Whim W’Him.
You have masses of artistic talent, training and vision yourself, plus good people skills, but so far very little money. There’s a recession on too, and you require major help with all the myriad jobs on the non-artistic side of running a company.
So you need to find yourself an administrator who combines an insider’s knowledge of dance with a formidable array of organizational/financial/executive skills—along with the know-how and experience to deploy them in a non-profit context.
You would, of course, prefer an intelligent, cheerful, social, highly energetic performing arts lover, who is also personable, persuasive, amusing and willing to work long hours.
Oh, and this someone must be committed to volunteering without pay for an indefinite number of years.
Does a person like that even exist?
The answer, amazingly, is yes.
Meet Katie Bombico.
Katie grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, fully intending to be a ballet dancer.
At age 16 her dream was shattered and her dance career ended by a back injury.
This existential challenge, “a mid-life crisis as a teenager,” as she says, taught her a lot about herself and her adaptability. Luckily she had always had a lot of interests.
After earning a college degree in English writing, she went on to do investigative journalism for a newspaper. Then, following several years “in the trenches” at environmental non-profits, Katie went on to graduate school, got a policy degree,
and took her current day job with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, where she deals with environmental issues. Working 9-5 for the GAO is rewarding and uses many of her skills. She also loves the outdoors and has a full and active private life with husband Dan Rowe.
But Katie’s “chronic problem,” as she phrases it, is “over-involvement.”
She was looking for a good volunteering opportunity on the local arts scene, when she saw the premiere of Olivier’s Shindig at a Pacific Northwest Ballet Choreographer’s Showcase in April, 2008. She says she “was blown away by Olivier’s potential and talent.” She saw all sorts of potential for marketing “his uniqueness and classical-based style” and could easily imagine “how many people it could connect to.”
She got in touch with him at once.
Olivier—at that point realizing the complexity of the undertaking he had embarked upon— told her, “We really need help! We’ve got to meet right away.”
They did and immediately hit it off. Poking around on the internet, before they got together, Katie had found Whim W’Him’s very basic new website.
She came to her first meeting with Olivier armed with a list of website improvements.
And so began their working relationship: he’d consult her with plans and air frustrations, while she would suggest useful strategies to put into action. After about six months of Katie’s volunteering, Olivier proposed her for the board of directors, where she served for 1½ year, before becoming president of the board a year and a half ago.
Katie’s collaboration with Olivier has been a huge success. They share a vision for Whim W’Him and have a strong mutual trust, she of his artistic instincts and experience, he of hers on the administrative and financial side.
An amusing example of the former was when Olivier wanted to hand out small pumice rocks to spectators before each performance of ThrOwn, so they could get a visceral sense of having the power to cast a stone. Katie had visions of liability issues, lawsuits & people actually throwing them. But she didn’t stand in his way, and he agreed to a program note to the effect that the rocks were symbolic only and not to be tossed.
Over the 4+ years since she joined the company, Katie has played a unique role, evolving into a combination executive direct and board president. What kinds of jobs has she done for Whim W’Him? Here’s just a sampling…
•development work—getting grants, cultivating ties to donors, and making connections with outside organizations for touring
•financial management—including running the entire budgeting process
•volunteer & production management—dealing with box office, contracts, getting W9 forms from dancers, paying people
•event planning for receptions and fund-raisers
•website development—not the actual programming or designing but suggestions for ways it can be updated and improved (lots of these coming along in the near future)
•care and feeding of the board—making sure they have what they need to deliver what they promise, running monthly meetings and a yearly board retreat
•print production and graphic design—seeing that programs and posters printed.
And always, dealing with crises, large and small—like the time one side of the program was printed upside down. Turning trouble to good use, Katie & Olivier cut up the unusable programs with scissors. The shreds came down as snow in the 3Seasons Winter section on opening night.
The board presidency of Whim W’Him is a two year term, and Katie thinks that’s about right. It is important to have leadership changes, especially with a young organization, and she anticipates rotating out of the board chairmanship at the end of her term.
Her dual role is in any case, she says, “too much for one person.”
But Katie Bombico is with Whim W’Him to stay. As Olivier puts it: “She has been there from the beginning, my twin at the very heart of Whim W’Him. She is out of the limelight mostly, but she makes all the things happen that I could not do without her.”
Back in the dance world now, though on the other side than when she danced herself, Katie has come full circle. She loves being in at the ground level of this young, exciting, inspiring company, able to contribute her abilities and knowledge. Katie’s enthusiasm, friendliness and expertise are a vital, indispensable part of Whim W’Him’s spirit & growth.